Mystic Jazz

St. Louis is one of the most musical of cities in our country – especially for aficionados of Blues and Jazz. And I missed the Big Muddy Blues Festival on this past Labor Day – unwilling to drive into the city’s LaClede Center to fight for parking – or to use the metrolink – or to brave the heat. No jiving for me.

Not long ago Terry and I had the best of all worlds in Mystic, Connecticut. Every Thursday night from seven o’clock to nine was live Dixieland Jazz at Ashby’s, a bar and restaurant at the end of Connecticut Route 127 in Old Mystic. Weekly gatherings were an eclectic bunch – Theresa, Jack and staff from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Gloria and Delores from Rhode Island’s Watch Hill coast, Paul and Richie, World War II airplane pilots, Angie, my Portuguese accountant friend, and the “boys” in the band—Dom, Charlie, Lou, John and Pete.

Donna, our waitress, knew our favorite foods and drinks… and what wasn’t on the menu, she’d get the cook to make it for us—like my favorite, pan-fried sole.

These glorious Thursdays lasted six years. And then the owner sold the place after his wife ran away with cook. A Mr. Donut shop now occupies the spot where glorious jazz once filled the air. I soon retired to St. Louis. Here’s a poem about that wondrous time:

Ashby’s

Thursday night is finally here—
It’s live jazz time at Ashby’s
so we head down to Mystic
along Route 27 way.

Inside it’s nothing fancy — sea stuff hanging
on the walls—buoys, harpoons,
prints of clippers from by-gone eras,
old instruments arranged around the bar.

Mystic Jazz image 1

Dominic lifts his horn to us.
Charlie nods, shoulders hunched
over yellowed keys.
Ted blows a set of scales
up and down his clarinet.
John, traps all set,
waves from his chair.
Lou is busy tuning strings
on his burnished bass viol.

Eleanor, Don, Tom and Marge smile hellos.
Jack asks where we’ve been.
Angie grins, happy we’re at our place
under the menu board
where we wait for Donna
to bring our steaming plates
of scallops, fish and chips.

The boys in Charlie’s band
prefer Dixieland jazz
but tonight they play
“Willow Weep for Me.”
Jim leads Gloria
onto the floor for a dance.
It seems the haunting melody
moves her to another place.
Bob’s son slowly stands,
hands braced upon the table—
lets the plaintive melody
rock him side to side.

Cecille’s smoky voice starts
“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.”
Her father smiles, eyes half shut,
imagines his dead wife’s spirit
keeping gentle rhythm
with their daughter’s wistful song.

Sometimes you never know
what musicians might appear.
Tonight we aren’t disappointed
as familiar notes soar through the air:

Pack up all my cares and woe—

Gradually eight men jam the floor.
Scott’s horn grabs the melody
embellished by saxophone’s
silky complexities:

Here I go, singing low.

Clarinet’s high notes soar to the fore,
drums, bass and piano
playing off and around each other,
complementing, harmonizing,
crescendo rising:

Where somebody waits for me,
Sugar’s sweet so is she.

Mystic Jazz image 1

No foot in the house is still.
Some of us stand at our tables,
jive in place the best we can,
our hoots, whoops and whistles
punctuating the air:

Oh what hard-luck stories they all hand me.
Bye-bye Blackbird.
Blackbird, bye-bye.

When the song is over,
Ashby’s owner Steve,
turns to the players,
shouts his thanks
over our applause—
reminding us why
we travel to Mystic
down Route 27 way.


Lines from “Bye-bye Blackbird” used with permission from Fred Ahlert Music Corporation.
“Ashby’s was first published in The Resident, January 25 – February 7, 2006, p. 30. Stonington, CT.

Ferguson Reflective

For a person like me – who has lived through and participated (however little) in the great movements for reform focused on civil right for Blacks, women and American Indians – I found it extremely difficult to say anything about the Ferguson, Missouri riots that occurred this past summer and fall, and still simmer hot.  What transforming words were there to be said that hadn’t already been said a hundred thousand times or more?  Then I came across these words by Nayyirah Waheed:  Some words build houses in your throat.  And they live there, content and on fire.  However inadequate, the following poem evolved:

Voice! Take a good look at this house built of self-righteous

rage, rants against greed, racism, hatred and discrimination.

Voice! Talk to me about seared timbers, the past’s poison

of pomposity, the current paralysis of silence.  Do not spare

rebuke that scours the rot of ennui.  Open my ears

to builders who wield new vocabularies – leaders

who practice justice, peace and respect, who

renew flagging energies, who care for the People.

Voice! Help me remodel this house.

Push me.  Spend me.  I beg fire’s renewal,

its outrage restrained.  O Voice, support community

visions that make dreams of jobs materialize.

My Voice!  In time remaining, remember to rejoice

with rising sun, for seeds that sprout – the prize to come.

 

© January 2015

 

Launch of Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England

Here’s a photograph of all the native authors who attended the launch party for Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England.  Hosted by the University of New Hampshire at Durham, I will say for myself that it was a splendid evening – an event I will always remember!  I finally got to meet Daniel N. Paul (third from left, seated) and Jaime Battiste, (first at left, standing).  We were the Mi’kmaw contingent out of ten other tribal voices.  It was so good to meet Cheryl Savageau (second in from the right seated), Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, (far right, seated), Mihku Paul (7th from left in middle row – white shirt, long hair), Carol Bachnofner  (to the right of Mihku), Lisa Brooks (back row black & white blouse), and Jesse Bruchac (last to the right, back row).  Paula Peters (next to Jaime) has become my new friend.  I regretted that Steven Augustine, Marie Battiste, James Sakej Youngblood Henderson, Susanne Rancourt, Joe, Marge and Jim Bruchac, Trudie Lamb Richmond, Jayne Fawcett, and Robert Peters were not in attendance.  And I believe all the departed ones – Rita Joe, Lorne Simon, Sopiel Soctomah, Chief Francis Joseph Neptune, Tomah Joseph, Deacon Sockabasin, Joseph Stanislaus, Sopiel SElmore, Lewis Mitchell, Sylvia Gabriel, Peter Mitchell, Mary Ellen Stevens Socobasin, Joseph Nicolaaar, Molly Spotted Elk, Wowaus, Samson Occum and the others – rejoiced with us this past Saturday night, November 1, 2014.  We carry their words and add our own, all known to each other and all very much unvanished!

This anthology is available from the University of Nebraska Press.  Siobhan Senier is the editor and she had assistance from ten tribal editors in choosing the selections.  Bravo!  This is an historic work!  An historic occasion!

Photo by Katie Liljegren

 

Birthday Post – July 30, 2014

Today is my birthday, and I must say it has been a good year as far as getting my poetry published.  My newest chapbook, Worn Cities, attracted eighty pre-orders, enough for the publishers, Finishing Line Press, to proceed with a press run of 250 copies!  I am grateful to all my supporters who ordered copies, which will be shipped September 6th, 2014.

My poems have appeared in Cream City Review, About Place Journal,  and Yellow Medicine Review.   Of particular pleasure for me has been the release of Dawnland Voices (University of Nebraska Press), edited by Siobhan Senier.  It is an anthology of indigenous writing from New England tribal authors, including Mi’kmaw, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Narragansett and Schaghticoke people. Each of the tribal sections contains an introduction  by a tribal community editor that assisted Siobhan in collecting and choosing the pieces showcased.

SiobhanImage

Many of the authors I know personally or through correspondence.  Some I have showcased  on this site – Mihku Paul, Carol Bachofner, Cheryl Savageau and Siobhan Senier, the indefatigable editor!  In the Mi’kmaw section, I found myself loving Elsie Charles Basque’s story, “From Here to There,” where she recounts traveling alone with children from Saunierville, Nova Scotia to Willimantic, Connecticut, a place where my own mother had lived awhile.  There’s an excerpt of the late Lorne Simon’s wonderful novel, Stones and Switches.   James Sakej Youngblood, Jaime Battiste (father and son) outlined the basis of our Mi’kmaw treaties –underscored by an excellent essay by Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr.,  Grand Captain Alexander Denny, and Putus (wisdom) Simon Marshall.

My entries included three poems – “Repatriation Soliloquy,” “Mi’kmaq Haiku,” and “Someday I Will Dance,” a personal favorite. Poems of the beloved poet, Rita Joe, are included and of course, Daniel Paul, our reknown activist, has an included section from his hard-hitting book, We Were Not the Savages.  As Joe Bruchac says, “…this is a brilliantly edited anthology.

If you want to order Dawnland Voices online, check out this link to learn more.

Even Dawnland Voices could not trump the best news of this birthday year: I found out the name of my biological fourth great grandmother–the one of whom I wrote in my May 7, 2013 post, listed below in the archives of this website.  Her name was (is) Marie LeBlanc Mius.  She had twin daughters, Marguerite and Madeleine Magdalene, born Mius – but taken in by another family, the Babin’s.  Marguerite became my third great grandmother.  There’s a story behind this “adoption,” believe me – but it’s for another time.  A cousin whom I found through autosomal DNA testing, Edward Cyr, helped me find her. I will never forget the enormous burden of obsession that rolled off my shoulders when Ed said, “You’ve found Her! You’ve found your grandmother.”  Not many people can boast of two family trees – double sets of relatives on down to the pre-colonial period of Nova Scotia.  I am thankful. In a future post, I will share a poem I wrote for Grandmother Marie.

Glorious Impossible

Every year I wait for Christmas to come in its own special way.  One year it was the alto and soprano soloists each singing the aria,”He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd.”  They were part of the Augustana College Oratorio Society performing Handel’s The Messiah.  The women’s lovely voices–especially on the high G notes of the soprano’s aria–commanded my attention.  In those moments, upon hearing the words, “Take His yoke upon you and learn of him / for he is meek and lowly of heart / and ye shall find rest / and ye shall find rest unto your soul,” I felt my heart overflowing with gratitude, my spirit renewed.

Another time, shortly after the death of my husband, Alec Azure, I had moved from Chicago to Fairfax, Virginia.  One late afternoon I was out walking and came upon a young boy weeping into his hands.  I stopped by him and asked if I could help.  Through tears that covered his cheeks, he cried, “I feel so bad about myself.”  And I, burdened by the same, tried to assure him that we, as a human race, have all experienced these feelings but have to go on, forgive ourselves and learn from our mistakes.  And I went on.  Days later I wept, realizing the Christmas Rose had come again.

On December 17th of this year, Christmas once again visited me!  A poster arrived in the mail, sent by my good friend, Ray Kimball.  Titled “Msit No’kmaq,” meaning “All My Relations,” the poster is a colorful depiction of Mi’kmaq family clans.  And guess what?  Spider is there!  Awo’kaq!  Awo’kweijit!  What an affirmation of Grandmother Spider’s visit to me the summer of 1994 when I retreated to some woods in Wisconsin, seeking new direction in my life–even beseeching the name of my clan!  Then, I did not understand her visit.  But I never doubted that she would teach me.  My memoir, Along Came a Spider, recounted this incident and how, in the ensuing years, I have learned about Spider’s importance in my life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I am convinced of the glorious compatibility of Native and Christian spirituality.  So I have arranged a miniature alabaster crèche on my kitchen windowsill.  Above  the figures, I have hung a purple-beaded rendition of Spider, who stretches down to where the baby lay.  I regard this as a bold link of greeting from deities come to earth to bless and champion all who seek succor, including me.

 

 

(c) December 2013 by Alice M. Azure

Genealogy’s Brick Walls

In the epilogue of my memoir, Along Came a Spider, I illustrated some of the difficulties I encountered as I attempted to identify the names of my ancestors, especially those of Métis and Mi’kmaw, or Wabanaki, background in Nova Scotia.

In June of 2005, my sister received an email in response to her request for information about our Surette ancestors.  In an answer back, she was referred to a book, Genealogy Saint Michael’s Parish-Wedgeport 1767 – 1925. On page 421 were these words:

Cyrille Surette…married Marguerite Babin, daughter of Charles Amand Babin and Anne Marguerite Belliveau on 25 October, 1815.  Marguerite, b. cir 1797 in Belleville, NS and d. in Wedgeport.  Marguerite may have been the natural daughter of Charles Amand Mius and an aboriginal mother from Penobscot, Maine.

From this passage, there seems to be the possibility that my biological third great-grandmother–Marguerite Babin Surette–was born Métis and that my fourth great-grandmother might be Penobscot.  Also, it is a well-known fact that the Mius family has deep Mi’kmaw roots in Nova Scotia, all the way back to Philippe Mius II d’Anzy (born 1660), who had two Mi’kmaw wives.  Ever since I was made aware of the possibility of my third great-grandmother being Métis, I have vigorously sought to know the name or circumstances of her Native mother.

Adoption was not a word used in the old Acadian communities of Nova Scotia.  There are records of Marguerite’s birth at St. Anne du Ruisseau indicating that she was born a twin to Madeleine Babin, born August 20, 1796.  It seems logical to me that a new mother would be able to more easily take in a newborn than a woman whose children were past the nursing stage.

Recently, I was able to secure the names of the committee members responsible for writing Genealogy St. Michael’s Paris-Wedgeport 1767 – 1925, published in 2004.  There were fourteen men and women in that group.  The man responsible overall for the book did not recall why the note about the aboriginal mother and Charles Amand Mius was inserted except to say “…there was obviously a valid reason at the time” and “…was not inserted without just cause.”  I was also informed that the most knowledgeable person was suffering a diminishment of mental capacities and therefore not able to answer my request for sources.  Another member had also died since the 2004 publication–a man I knew with a keen historical understanding of Native/French intermarriages.  His name was never mentioned to me by the committee head.  I expressed my disappointment to the committee members, writing that I regarded their excuses for not being able to cite sources as weak and unacceptable.  Shortly thereafter, the Acadian Museum and Archives in Pubnico, Nova Scotia, where one of the committee members worked, refused to have anything more to say about the matter.

I know of one other genealogist whose records link Charles Amand Mius and an aboriginal mother from Penobscot, Maine to my third great-grandmother, Marguerite Babin.  Again, he has not offered me any of his sources and simply wondered what the Wedgeport genealogical committee was hiding.  I don’t know–but I am learning to be patient.

 

SOS – My Poetry Group

A Mighty Fine Poetry Group

I want to introduce you to my wonderful poetry group — SOS or, Six on Saturday.  For nearly seven years we have been meeting monthly to feed each other with food, drink and inspiration.  I think we have reached a point of trust where there’s very little we wouldn’t say or write.  Sometimes we seem to know each other better than we know ourselves!  For instance, I remember protesting that I didn’t consider myself a Native American poet exclusively–something like that, whereupon all five of Bunchies (as I sometimes call them) raised their eyebrows and uttered a collective “Huh?” From left to right, here we are:

Alice Azure‘s writing have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, the most recent being Yellow Medicine Review, Studies in American Indian Literatures and The Florida Review.  In 2011 she launched two books, a memoir, Along Came a Spider (Bowman Press) and a book of poetry, Games of Transformation (Albatross Press), the latter selected as the poetry book of the year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.

gaye gambell-peterson is a degreed visual artist and self-taught poet–stays busy doing both.  Recent kudos: First place in 2012 St. Louis Poetry Center’s Nash Contest; art and poetry published online by qarrtsiluni (Fragments). Two chapbooks feature her poetry & collages: pale leaf floating (Cherry Pie Press) and MYnd mAP (Agog Press).  Art featured twice on covers of Natural Bridge and elsewhere; poems in anthologies Breathing Out and Flood Stage, and elsewhere. She belongs to Loosely Identified (a women’s poetry collective), St. Louis Poetry Center (formerly a board member), St. Louis Writers Guild, and SOS (her favorite).

Katherine Mitchell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri St. Louis.  She has taught the Alexander Technique professionally for over twenty years.  Katherine has a background in dance and teaches Argentine Tango at Washington University.

Keith Byler is a physician with ten years in the trenches of the emergency room and is now in private practice.  His poems have appeared in Emergency: True Stories from the Nation’s E. R.’s, Hurricane Blues, Margie: The American Journal of Poetry, Untamed Ink, Thema, Flood Stage and others. He is also a winner of the Metro Arts in Transit 2008 Poetry in Motion contest.  Keith has been active in the St. Louis Poetry Center and is a past board president for the organization.  He and his wife Danica (a marriage counselor) live on a small farm outside of Edwardsville.

Rebecca Ellis lives in southern Illinois, on the eastern bluffs of the Mississippi, just high enough above the floodplain.  Her poems can be found in Prairie Schooner, Natural Bridge, qarrtsiluni.com, Bad Shoe and Crab Creek Review.  She edited Cherry Pie Press, publishing nine poetry chapbooks by Midwestern woman poets.  She now finds an artful home with two writing groups–Loosely Identified, and Six on Saturday.

Gail Eisenhart‘s poems can be seen in California Quarterly, Assisi, The Centrifugal Eye, The Quotable and qarrtsluni. Her chapbook Dip in the Road was runner up in the 2012 Mary
Ballard Chapbook contest sponsored by Casey Shay Press.  A retired Executive Assistant, she works part time at the Belleville (IL) Public Library.

 

 

 

Songs of the Church – More Poetic Influences

My formative years were strongly linked to the music of the church. A typical week started with Sunday school, where we learned those innocent gospel tunes such as “Jesus Loves Me,” or “The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rocks” and so on. The formal church service followed and again the evening worship hour. Many times I attended Wednesday evening prayer services. Confirmation, choir, youth activities, vacation bible school and business meetings were part of the calendar, with nearly every activity incorporating songs of the church.

I learned to love the words, paying attention to them during the sermons, which I could not hear because of a hearing loss. But in the hymn books, I had the words in front of me. Sometimes the music score enhanced a song like “It is Well with My Soul.” Other times the sounds in the poem were enough. I loved their common meter—its quiet comfort, illustrated by one of my favorite hymns, Beautiful Savior: “Fair are the meadows, fair are the woodlands / robed in flowers of blooming spring.” Molly Peacock comments on this quality of quiet rhythm in her illuminating book, How to Read a Poem: “It clears the air,” she says, “allowing us to breathe with the deep and regular inhalations and exhalations that sustain life.” (p.28)

It is difficult to point to a favorite genre of hymns or gospel songs. But I think a tattered little booklet that sits on my bookshelf gives away my love for Hymns of the Scandinavian Heritage (Chicago: Covenant Press, 1973). I remember sitting in church next to my children’s paternal grandfather, Herb Liljegren, and closing my eyes in order to concentrate on his nice, bass voice singing, “O wonderful day that soon may be here! / O beautiful hope the pilgrim to cheer.” Lina Sandell (1832 – 1903), a prolific hymn writer from Sweden, has several representative songs in that old booklet of mine. She was influenced by her country’s pietistic movement which, among several other characteristics, stressed a personal and emotional relationship to Jesus. A long-time favorite of mine, illustrates this point: “Thy holy wings, dear Savior, spread gently over me; /And thru the long night watches, I’ll rest secure in thee.

In preparing this post for my website—I consulted a paper on Pietism that I wrote in 1967 for my history professor, Ross Paulson, at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. I had forgotten the emphasis Pietists placed upon hymn-writing—poem/songs that expressed a faith in a personal God who was also a Father. From the late 1600s to the late 1800s, this movement was as vibrant as it was complicated. My intent here is not to emphasize the polemics of this movement as much as it is to showcase certain hymns that had an influence upon my young life. Little did I know that the radicalism and grace stirred up by this movement would provide a deep reservoir of creativity received through the Norwegian heritage of my mother, Catherine Pedersen. In her honor, and on the anniversary of my 72nd birthday, I quote one last poem/song of Hans A. Brorson (1694-1764), set to the music of an old Norwegian folk tune: “Who is this host arrayed in white like thousand snow-clad mountains bright, / that stands with palms and sings its psalms before the throne of light?” Always—I wonder this question as I receive the host and wine at Sunday worship.

© July 30, 2012 by Alice M. Azure

My Early Poetic Influences: Fred W. Moeckel 1929 – 1966

From the age of 11 to 18, I lived in a children’s home in Cromwell, Connecticut.  Even though  Fred Moeckel joined the staff as a boys’ counselor around the time I was in the eighth grade, he was always kind and friendly to us girls.

I loved to be around Bud (his nick name) for many reasons.  He taught us silly songs like “I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.”   He was always sketching cartoons, even though he wouldn’t do a caricature of me.  “Why?” I asked.  “Well, you don’t have any odd features,” he laughed.  We always wondered where he disappeared to on his day off—for when he returned, there were paintings under his arm or a sheaf of poems tucked into his pocket—not to mention a camera slung over his shoulder.

Most of all, I loved his poetry.   Once I asked him how he could make so many poems.  His answer was something like, “Well you think of two things that might go together, and you make a poem out of them!”  Back then, I didn’t understand.

One of my fondest memories of Bud is of long summer afternoons down by our swimming hole.  Instead of “life-guarding” us, he’d be engrossed in poetry writing and sipping coffee from the hot pot he carried with him.  Meanwhile, about thirty or so of us kids would be swimming away, dunking each other, doing tricks off the diving board or perhaps ramming the raft with our ten-foot water log!  Many years later while on vacation, I, too, carried a steaming pot of coffee down to a beach with me—to help wile away a cool morning reading my books or writing letters.

Bud published three books of poetry in his short life—the first of which is my favorite—One Voice Two (New York: Exposition Press, 1964).  Many of the poems evoke memories of wonderful  summer days  of swimming and playground fun with other children who lived at the home—especially the boys about whom our beloved poet-friend wrote.   A favorite of mine is “S-U-M-M-E-R” (page 32):

The smell of child sweat
sweet as bubblegum,
the prickle of white heat
evaporating from
the slightest bird’s wing-tremble breath,
the glass beads of freckled words
spell summer…

The poem “Ritual” (page 51) captures a familiar, happy scene of childhood:

Thief-quick boys
upset the poise
of young girls, sun-
bathing; they run
scattering heel-
high sand to steal
whatever loose thing
a girl must bring
to swimming.  To show off—
the boys, by a throw of
each girl’s belonging,
begin a singsonging
tease:  out of reach,
over the head of each
victim.  At last,
the game of it past,
the tormentors hand
all contraband
back.  For their part,
the girls, though hurt
today, will bring
small things
with them tomorrow
for the boys to borrow
and steal and play catch
with while the girls watch.

I remember Bud’s sensitivity to our childhood hurts—having been comforted by him the best he could manage when other adult counselors came down too hard on us.  Here’s a poem—”Gone from Gladness Wholly” (page 29)—that illustrates what Mark Van Doren called Bud Moeckel’s “…intimate relation with all things”:

Heavy to the lone child lying hidden
beneath the underside and veins
and pigeon-fruit of grape leaves, the gains
of joy are lost to an unbidden
child-reflective melancholy;
and he is gone from gladness wholly,
grieving as only a lone child grieves
in the silken comfort of silver leaves.

Fred W. Moeckel attended North Park College and its theological seminary.  He graduated magna cum laude from the Hartford Art School in 1959—even though he became blind during his final year.  At the time of his death in 1966 from complications of diabetes, he was a rehabilitation counselor for the blind.

Thriving in St. Louis

When I first moved to the St. Louis area, all I wanted at the time was to be near my family and grandchildren, whose baby and toddler years had already passed me by.  I have never regretted this move.  Being involved in the hectic schedules and lives of four grandchildren and their parents has been a highlight of my life.

Yet, I worried a bit about this city which has its share of bad jokes and negative urban distinctions.  So I was pleasantly surprised to realize that St. Louis also has a reputation for being one of the most literate cities in the country.  Poets, writers and journals (Boulevard, River Styx, Margie, Sou’wester and Natural Bridge, to mention a few) abound.  Within days of arriving here, I was in attendance at a Sunday poetry workshop sponsored by the St. Louis Poetry Center.  A ride had been arranged for me by the president of SLPC, Loy Ledbetter, who asked Rebecca Ellis (then editor of Cherry Pie Press) to pick me up at my house in Maryville.  This was my first foray into the Delmar Loop of Blueberry Hill and Chuck Berry fame.  The 2 1/2 hour workshop was held in the large, public library.  Since then, I have had my poems critiqued by such notable poets as Molly Peacock, Carl Phillips, Denis Duhamel and Richard Crewell, a Missouri poet Laureate.

Most surprising, and with the help of many old and new friends, I have managed to publish three books.  And from the two or more annual all-day seminars offered by SLPC, I have attended five–facilitated by poets such as Allison Funk, Richard Newman, Joshua Kryah and Joy Katz.  I have learned the importance of a first line, the usefulness of creating a “window” for a poem that allows expansion and layers to more easily develop, the importance of internal movement and above all, to keep going on to that next poem, not getting stuck in the present (or past).  Out of all this, I know my poetry composition has improved.

There is no doubt in my mind that the bulk of my growth as a poet is due to monthly meetings with “Six on Saturday,” a group of friends who have been together for the past six years.  If a title doesn’t help the poem, or punctuation is in error, or lines are unnecessary, or the sin of “telling, not showing” is committed–we all shoulder whatever criticism pertains to a particular poem.  I dread hearing one of my friends say, “What in the world are you writing about?”  My five friends are Gail Eisenhardt, Gaye Gambell-Peterson, Katherine Mitchell, Rebecca Ellis and Keith Byler.

On May 20, I will be among a group of prize-winning poets reading at SLPC’s annual “concert.”  My poem, “Portage,” won honorable mention, having been judged by Drucilla Wall, author of The Geese at the Gates.  My SOS friend, Gaye Gambell-Peterson, won first place for her action-packed poem about the 2011 Good Friday tornado that wrecked her condo.  Here is my poem, a bit quieter:

Portage

She drags her kayak along the portage path
away from chaos to the calm of Basin Pond
where loons dance, cry out their eerie laughs.

She lights candles from Boston to Baden-Baden,
wonders how many it takes for God to respond?
She pulls her kayak along the portage path.

She sailed the seas of Indonesia and St. Barth’s,
ferried Stockholm’s waters like a vagabond
too far from loons’ dance and their eerie laughs.

Widowhood and grief—after his selfish passing—
made plain the importance of carrying on—
pushing her kayak along the portage path.

Basin Pond is deep and calm, her craft
a heavy heave, even with the chaos gone.
Still, loons dance.  She joins their eerie laughs.

Florida is lovely in winter; so is La Paz.
But Maine is the place of which she’s most fond,
pulling her kayak along its portage path
to where loons dance, cry their welcome laughs.